Helpful Hints History

Writing Your Life Story

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Written by Marge Bitetti

Have you ever thought about writing your life story? How about writing the story of one of your relatives? You don’t need to be Danielle Steel, Nicholas Sparks or James Patterson to write about your life story. You are the only person who can tell your story. Don’t worry about not having an interesting life. All lives are worth remembering. I once knew a homeless woman who was a little eccentric. Perhaps her odd behavior is what got her on the streets. She lost her life saving a stray dog from the path of an on-coming train. Many people might have thought that her life wasn’t worth remembering but her heroism helped to change that view. Very few people live the lives of wealthy movie and television stars but their stories are still worthy of remembering.

Once you’ve decided to reflect on your life and start writing, you might get overwhelmed at where to begin. The best way to write about your life or a loved-one’s is in bite-size chunks. If you have lived forty, fifty, sixty or more years you have a lot of memories and stories to share. To break the task down it helps if you focus your writing on key topics. A few of these might include your school years, military service, or how you met your spouse. When you write, only focus on one key topic before exploring any other aspect of your life. Once you start writing you will be surprised at how much that you start to remember.

You might find that personal history sounds like a new term. Other more familiar expressions include biography, autobiography, chronicle or memoir. All of these focus on telling the story of the events in a person’s life. Some people hire a personal historian to help them organize and write the stories that they lived in their lifetime. The end results might be a book, a video, audio recordings, or an ethical will. Your family photos can be included with many of these final projects. Although a close cousin to a personal history, the work of genealogy is different. Genealogy works with preserving a person’s roots and lineage from their ancestors. This work compliments the work done by a personal historian, but is different. The art of scrapbooking is similar to writing your personal history but the end project is typically limited to a single work of art. Usually a scrapbook memoir has a limited amount of writing and focuses more on the collage and texture of the various images and memorabilia. Writing your personal history allows you to produce multiple copies of your story to share with relatives or friends.

No matter where you begin to tell your life story, remember that others played a role in the events of your life. Next month’s topic will focus on remembering and sharing who was with you at the key times of your life.

Here are a couple topics for this month to help you start writing your history. September is the start of the school year. A few months ago the United States celebrated Fourth of July. These two topics can provide a wealth of memories.

Do you have children or grandchildren who have started back to school? What do you remember about your school years? Or perhaps you are still furthering your education. What does it mean to you to learn something new? What was your favorite subject in school? What education level did you enjoy the best and why? Did you have any favorite teachers? Why was a particular teacher your favorite? Write down some of your memories of attending school. It could be elementary school, middle school or college. What do you remember most?

In July the United States celebrated its 240th anniversary as a new nation no longer under British rule. For many families, celebrating the 4th of July is the highlight of summer. What are your early memories about celebrating the Fourth of July? Where were you? Who was with you? How old were you? What did you wear? What foods did you eat? Do you remember seeing fireworks? Write down your Fourth of July memories.

You can begin filling your writing notebook with these memories about school or about the 4th of July. This will help you to organize your thoughts as you move forward. Spend time on the content of what you want to write and not on the grammar. You can clean up your spelling and grammar later. Talk to a friend or neighbor about your memories. Both of you will find it rewarding and entertaining experience.

Here are a few Internet resources that may help as you begin to write your life story:

International Oral History Association

The Veterans History Project, Library of Congress 

Association of Professional Genealogists 

Family Tree Magazine


Want help writing your life story or researching your ancestors? Contact Marge or other expert researchers and post a request to our community today!

About the author

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Marge Bitetti

Marge Bitetti, an author, member of Association of Professional Genealogists, researcher for National Achives, member of the Authors Guild and writes blogs for Ancestor Cloud as well as helping people connect with relatives.

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